Wednesday, November 09, 2011

old....alone....done for...?

"I know we're all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?"   -  Jack Nicolson as Warren Schmidt in "About Schmidt"
In the 2002 movie "About Schmidt," Jack Nicolson's character plods through life, keeping things predictable - no deep connections, no deep thoughts, no real pain, no real joy. However, in a rare act of impulse, he signs up to sponsor an African child through a Christian charity, and begins writing the child letters.

After his wife's untimely death (she drops dead in their kitchen while he is out), he decides to take a solo RV trip visit his daughter in another state. During the trip, Schmidt begins to awaken as he lets life happen to him. He chronicles his trip - and his life - in his letters to an unseen African boy.

Like his life, the letters are about one thing - himself. The details he shares are ridiculously self-centric, but it seems like the first time he's allowed himself to think about life and share a part of himself with someone else.

At one point, lying alone on top of his RV looking at the stars, he reflects on his life. He wonders what his late wife really thought of him. Did she love him, or was she just too nice to tell him how disappointed she was in him? In the dark, he asks her to forgive him for not being the man she deserved. At that moment, a shooting star blazes across the sky. We see a flicker of hope, see a light start to come on, slowly, painfully, and we pray he'll just keep moving.

He continues his trip and attempts to reconnect with his daughter, who lives in Denver and is about to be married to a waterbed salesman. Schmidt is forced to interact with his future son-in-law's very gregarious, very messy family. He is definitely out of his comfort zone, probably for the first time in his life. He is concerned about his daughter's marriage and tells her that she is making a mistake. She replies that after all these years, he no longer gets to have an opinion about her life; he can either stay and do what he's told, or go back home to Omaha. He stays for the wedding, and during the reception he placates everyone with a lovely but definitely not heart-felt speech. He leaves the wedding feeling old, alone, and done for - his life hasn't made a difference to anyone or anything.

At the end of this disappointing trip, Schmidt returns home to an empty house and a pile of unopened mail. One letter catches his eye, with its unknown handwriting and foreign stamp. It is correspondence from the sponsored child, written by a nun at the orphanage. She tells him that the boy has been sick, but is now well thanks to Schmidt's donations. She explains that the boy cannot read or write, but that he has drawn a picture to express his thanks and heartfelt wishes for Schmidt.

The boy's drawing shows a stick figure of himself holding the hand of a man beside him - Schmidt. A virgin tear rolls down Schmidt's worn cheek and is followed by sobs. For the first time in a long but isolated life, his story is no longer About Schmidt. He has touched and been touched. Whatever is left of his life will never be the same.

Many of us are or have been Schmidt, living lives of "quiet desperation." When I get discouraged about the state of things around me, I wonder - what have I done to make sure this story isn't just about me?  W
here does it start?  Right here....right now....let it begin with me....

Thursday, September 22, 2011


at my age
it's nice to know
i can still turn
a head
a phrase
a leaf
right on red (except on main),
to every season turn
for the better, turn about
is fair play, turn my
eyes, turn their
hearts, or at least
their ankles
so I know

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

fall (stop)

Rising sun serenades the silvery moon
Indian summer signs cool
salt marsh shimmers green
grande redeye gives props
carpool rocks to Hot Chelle Rae
yesterday's ennui
swept away in a flush of Life

(c) 2011  Cynthia Y Carver-Futch

Thursday, April 21, 2011

catalyst/catullus and i

There are people and situations we encounter in life that challenge us, enhance us, transform us. Whether knowingly or unaware, they serve as a catalyst to forever change our outlook, our perceptions, our locations, and even our character DNA. Our hope in life is that we can impact at least one other in such a significant way for the better.

Those who touch us and those we touch are not necessarily one in the same. When they are, magic happens. Not Disney magic, but ancient magic, deep and strong. The kind that pushes us out of the armchair and catapults us into the unknown.

Sometimes we fly together. When that happens, it takes our breath away. It awes us that someone who isn't a parent can care that much about us, is willing to invest in us, and wants to walk beside us. Even when it is messy and inconvenient. Maybe especially then.

Sometimes the catalyst sees us off, stays behind, becomes a memory instead of a companion. And is best left there in the past, in peace. It has served a purpose. Maybe it was a nice experience. Maybe it was a devastation. Either way, it opened a door, a window, a portal, or shoved us out of the way and onto another road. One that made all the difference.

But sometimes we mix the two up. We try to drag people or things or scenarios forward with us in our heads as well as our hearts, instead of leaving them in their proper place and perspective. The "what ifs" haunt us and taint our present. While we would not be in our present state without them, it is often difficult to leave the past behind. A dead Roman dude named Catullus described it as an inability to "put away a long love".  Even when that "love" is actually something pretty ugly, it's familiar. The whole "devil you know..." conundrum.

I'm not sure how or when I found this poem, but it has stuck with me. It reminds me that, as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, "What's past is prologue." Letting something in the past hold us back - either regret or guilt or longing for what has gone before - keeps us from living into the fullness of what is before us. In the vernacular, it keeps us in a rut. Which, according to my dad, is just a grave with both ends knocked out. Don't know about you, but I don't want to live there.

If there is any pleasure in remembering past good deeds
for a man, when he believes that he is dutiful,
nor he has violated any sacred trust, nor in any pact
of the gods to have abused divine power to deceive men,
then much joy remains to you in your long life, Catullus,
prepared from this thankless love.
For anything that a man is able to do or say well to another
these have been done and said by you
all of which things have died entrusted to this ungrateful mind
So why do you keep torturing yourself further?
Why not be firm in the mind, and lead yourself out from there
and stop being miserable with the gods unwilling
It is difficult to suddenly put away a long love
It is difficult, but you must do it in some way or other
it is the one safety, this must be conquered by you
Just do it! Whether it is impossible or possible
Oh gods, if it is in you to pity, or if ever
you have saved someone in the nick of time in death itself
Look upon pathetic me! And, if I have lived life purely
take away from me this poison and pest
which creeping down to my inner most self like a paralysis
takes away happiness from my whole heart
Now I do not seek, that she loves me in return
or, (that which is impossible), that she chooses to be chaste
I wish myself to be well, and to put down this foul disease
Oh Gods! return this to me in return for my piety.